SC Politics

SC Senate Race: Russell Ott ‘Bought And Paid For,’ Ad Alleges

Lawmaker blasted for $80,000-a-year payday from lobbyist principal …

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South Carolina state senator Dick Harpootlian is taking aim at his Democratic primary rival with a new advertisement questioning his special interest payouts … which appear to have been significantly larger than previously disclosed.

The payouts to state representative Russell Ott – first reported on by our media outlet three years ago – come from S.C. Farm Bureau, which previously employed (and some say still employs) the veteran lawmaker as a lobbyist. Also of interest? Farm Bureau’s president and chief executive officer is former S.C. House minority leader Harry Ott – the lawmaker’s father.

“Russell Ott: Bought and paid for,” the narrator of the advertisement stated. “Wrong for South Carolina. Wrong for you.”

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According to the advertisement, Ott has made more than $800,000 from lobbyist principals since taking his seat in the House in October 2013. That’s an average of more than $80,000 per year – well above the average per capita personal income in the Palmetto State.

In addition to his special interest pay day, Ott also receives a salary and benefits from taxpayers.

“Before he was elected he was a lobbyist for special interests,” the narrator stated.

After that, Ott “became a state representative and those same special interests doubled his payout to $75,000 while he sponsored their bills and pushed their legislation.”

Take a look at the spot …

(Click to View)

(Harpootlian for Senate/ YouTube)

Ott responded to the advertisement by saying he has been “disclosing (his employment) from day one.”

That’s true … although in the aftermath of our 2021 report, Ott’s disclosures were repeatedly incomplete, understating the actual amount of money he received.

On March 6, 2024 – just days before he filed his paperwork to run against Harpootlian – Ott amended his 2022 and 2023 statements of economic interest with the S.C. Ethics Commission (SCSEC). According to those filings, he reported receiving additional payments of $75,000 from Farm Bureau in both 2021 and 2022.

That’s $150,000 in previously unreported income …

On its disclosure forms, S.C. Farm Bureau does not list any payments to Russell Ott or his company, Center Hill Consulting LLC. It does, however, reference a “direct business relationship” with Ott for “non-lobbying services.” In fact, the Farm Bureau notation claimed Ott’s responsibilities “do not include and expressly prohibit him from lobbying.”

Really … but introducing, sponsoring and pushing legislation favored by the group is allowed?

Nonetheless, Ott is accusing Harpootlian – one of South Carolina’s most famous trial lawyers – of engaging in deceptive courtroom tactics.

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S.C. senator Dick Harpootlian. (Pool)

“Pretty telling that his entire campaign is about me and not the people of this district,” Ott said. “Smoke and mirrors might work in a courtroom but it’s not going to work in this election.”

Harpootlian won his seat in the Senate in a special election in November 2018. He was subsequently reelected to a full, four-year term in 2020 – but his district was drawn off the map to accommodate population shifts toward the booming Palmetto Lowcountry.

The attorney and veteran Democratic politico lives inside the boundaries of the newly drawn S.C. Senate 26 – which became a contested seat after veteran senator Nikki Setzler announced his impending departure from the legislature earlier this year. Harpootlian announced his intention to run for the seat shortly thereafter, followed by Ott.

Partisan primary elections in South Carolina are scheduled for June 11, 2024.

My take on Ott’s Farm Bureau gig? As I noted three years ago, “any lawmaker who receives compensation from an entity with business before the state should know better than to vote for or publicly advocate on behalf of that organization’s legislative priorities.”

Indeed, lawmakers should have taken steps long ago to ban such self-dealing – and the fact they haven’t tells you all you need to know about the extent to which they rely on such shady arrangements.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and eight children.

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4 comments

Rebecca Shields Top fan April 20, 2024 at 8:21 am

It happens on both sides in this corrupt state. It’s disgusting

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Avatar photo
Morty W Top fan April 20, 2024 at 1:04 pm

That it does. That it is.

Reply
jbl1a April 21, 2024 at 7:58 am

Ott bought and paid for and Dick is #1 ambulance chaser, lmao. You can’t make this stuff up

Reply
Deana Berley Top fan April 29, 2024 at 9:45 pm

Let’s hope Republicans but up a non-crappy candidate! In this state’s Uni-party, that’s not a guarantee…

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